I have known Newt Gingrich for 27 years, beginning at a time when he was
relatively obscure except to C-SPAN devotees who saw him chronically
criticizing the majority leadership in the U.S. house of representatives (he
was a minority backbencher). That continued to the Republicans’ surprise
upset victory (much of it designed by him) in the 1994 elections which led
to him being elected speaker of the house, and then to his resignation four
years later, followed by a decade-long career in speaking, creating public
policy think tanks and authoring and co-authoring numerous books on
Mr. Gingrich is one of the few men or women in American politics who is
truly sui generis, and it has come to no surprise to those who know him
that he would close out his elective career with a serious run for the
presidency. That campaign, while not yet concluded, has included some of
the characteristic ups and downs, highs and lows, brilliance and blunders
that have marked his political life begun almost 40 years ago.
Newt Gingrich’s place in American political history is secure whether or
not he wins his party’s nomination for president. It would now appear that
he will not be the Republican nominee in 2012 (although in a political year
such as this one, nothing is absolutely final until the delegate tally in Tampa).
Twice in this political cycle, Mr. Gingrich’s candidacy was written off, and
twice he has re-emerged by force of his ideas, his debating ability and a
gritty persistence. One more time, many in the media, both liberal and
conservative, have decided his candidacy is over, or to employ a baseball
analogy, that a third strike has been called on him, and he is out.
Thus, there are calls for Mr, Gingrich to withdraw gracefully from the
contest, and allow Rick Santorum to duke it out with frontrunner Mitt
Romney for the remaining delegates. I think nothing would be more
To those who view a presidential nominating campaign as purely a horse
race and a clash of personalities, it is logical to call for Mr. Gingrich to
withdraw. But there are fundamental flaws in this thinking at this time.
First of all, although anything is possible, there is no reasonable chance
that Mr. Santorum will be nominated in Tampa. He has had recent success
because he was the only remaining candidate who spoke to the social and
religious wing of his party, a wing which has felt its issues have not yet been
expressed in this political cycle. But these concerns, however legitimate, are
not the primary concerns of the majority of the Republican electorate.
Nor even more conclusively are they the concerns of the majority of
American voters, including the almost one-third who belong to no party and
ascribe to no formal ideology. Why should Mr. Gingrich, who has received
almost as many popular votes as Mr. Santorum so far, and who represents a
much broader conservative view than the former Pennsylvania senator, now
stand aside for him?
Secondly, it is a misunderstanding of Mr. Gingrich’s political personality to
think he would withdraw at this point without what he would feel was his full
contribution to the political conversation in such a pivotal political year.
Without Mr. Gingrich, the debates would have been far duller. Without some
of his ideas, the GOP campaign would have been less original. And without
his historical perspective, the critical nature of November election would have
been less urgent and clear. My point is that, while the eventual GOP nominee
may have been determined (Mr. Gingrich will understandably strongly disagree
with me on this), the full nature of a potentially successful Republican
challenge to President Obama has not been determined.
Count me as one of those who feels that a GOP nomination contest finally
settled too early is neither good for the party nor good for the country. It will
be apparent soon enough (probably in May or sooner) who the nominee will
be. Meanwhile, let the conversation and the debate continue. Mr. Santorum
should remain in the contest, as should Ron Paul. I don’t agree with some of
what they advocate, but they represent legitimate points of view within their
party. And most certainly, Newt Gingrich should remain in the race until he
feels he has had his say and presented fully his case.
Mr. Gingrich has made his share of political mistakes, both before this
campaign and now during it. He is a volatile personality who appeals to some
voters, and turns others off. He is probably now not going to be president of
the United States. But the Republican Party, and the Democratic Party, for that
matter, have no one with comparable a vision of the past, present and future
of this “exceptional” nation among the nations.
So let Newt Gingrich finish what he began. Let history write the truest account
of what he has done.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.